If you’re thinking seriously about divorce, you must be suffering deeply and believe that your relationship will never get better. I understand. Few things are more painful than a complicated relationship and I can understand why you’d like to throw in the towel. But before you do, I’d really like to encourage you to try a slow separation process.
The reason I recommend a slow process is that when we’re upset, we don’t think clearly. Our brains get flooded with stress chemicals and these chemicals literally block the thinking pathways in our minds. So if you make a decision when you’re flooded with stress, frustration, and anger, you’re not likely to make the best decision.
If you go through the process below and still find that you want a divorce, then I believe you’ve done everything possible and given your marriage every chance. I want you to be able to say this to yourself, your family, your kids, and anyone else who matters. Ending a marriage is a traumatic event and something that is nearly impossible to undo, so I want you to be really, really sure it’s the right choice.
Step 1. Try a “soft reset”
Talk with your spouse and explain that you’d like to press the reset button on your relationship. Stay together, commit to working on the relationship with help. Focus on rebuilding the relationship slowly; start by being kind, friendly, and having fun with each other. Introduce more positive moments and exchanges as you can. Work your way through the relationship repair process. Start working with a couples therapist. Try this step for about 60 days before going on to the next step.
2. Try a “hard reset”
If the soft reset does not work, consider a hard reset. During a hard reset, you and your spouse agree to take a 30 day break from the relationship. One of you should move out to stay with a friend or family member. During these 30 days, you should have very limited phone, email, and personal contact. The goal of this phase is to clarify your feelings. It’s likely that one of two things will happen: you’ll either miss your spouse and have a renewed desire to make things better - or - you’ll feel a sense of relief and know that you’d like to move forward to separation. Based on this feeling, make a decision about whether you are ready to reconcile, or if you need to separate. Also, consider some individual therapy during this step.
3. Try a structured separation.
If the hard reset tells you that the relationship is really over, I suggest a 6 month structured separation. During this time, one of you should move out to a more permanent location, some place you can stay comfortably for at least 6 months. During this time, you should have limited contact and agree to both operate under a set of ground rules. These ground rules can include any rules that both of you feel comfortable with (i.e., you pay for both cars, I’ll pay for the utilities, etc…). The one rule I’d like both of you to agree to is to NOT date anyone else during the structured separation. Go out, have fun, see your friends, but please don’t bring any new person into the relationship. Meet up 1-2x a month for a conversation on how things are going, ideally this conversation could happen with your couples therapist. Continue individual therapy during this step. If you’d like to reconcile at any point during this phase, that is absolutely fine.
Before making any decisions about where you and your kids should live, please chat with an attorney. I do not know how moving out or coming up with child custody arrangements might affect you or your family if you should end up getting a divorce. Please have this chat with a legal adviser before making any decisions.
4. Make your decision – divorce or reconciliation.
If you’ve tried all of the steps above, and they haven’t worked, you have really done everything possible to save the relationship. You have allowed plenty of time for your thoughts and feelings to calm down and improve. You have worked with a couples therapist and an individual therapist. If you’ve done this all, please make your decision without guilt, knowing that you did everything you could to save the marriage. As sad as it is, not all relationships are meant to be forever and sometimes the right thing to do is let go.
Again, I advocate for this process because I want you to be confident in your choice and your decisions. Our feelings and thoughts can change radically in a year and I’d like for you to spend at least a year trying to repair your relationship before choosing divorce.
That said, please know that no book, website, or expert should tell you how to live your life. You need to make choices that make you feel good and proud. If in your heart of hearts you know that there is no chance for your relationship to get better, trust yourself, but please deeply consider giving the step method described above a chance to work for you.